The Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ethics convened Tuesday, formally beginning the investigation into whether Stanley C. Rosenberg, who has stepped aside as Senate president, broke chamber rules.
The investigation stems from last week’s Globe report that detailed accusations from four men who alleged that Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, sexually assaulted or harassed them and who said Hefner bragged he had influence on Senate business.
Over the next two weeks, the ethics committee is poised to hire an outside investigator, who will conduct the inquiry and deliver a report to the committee. The committee said it intends to release that report while protecting the confidentiality of those who provide information.
Before banishing reporters from the committee meeting, as is custom on Beacon Hill, the committee’s chairman, Democratic Senator Michael J. Rodrigues of Westport, delivered a prepared statement.
The longtime legislator said he is committed to a fair and through investigation, as well as a process that ensures confidentiality for any person who has any information to report on sexual harassment or sexual assault. Rodrigues said the committee would apply high standards in selecting the outside investigator, who will do the actual work of the inquiry.
“Any candidate for the role of independent investigator will be carefully screened and scrutinized by the ethics committee to ensure a comprehensive and impartial investigation,” he said. “The integrity of the Senate as a public institution is far more important than any individual member.”
Rodrigues also emphasized alleged victims and witnesses should feel they can cooperate without fear of retaliation.
The chairman said the committee’s first job will be picking the investigator and outlining his or her authority. Rodrigues said the six-person committee’s job is not to conduct the investigation but rather to set in place “the mechanisms for discovering the truth.”
Sitting with fellow committee members — Democratic Senators William N. Brownsberger of Belmont, Cynthia S. Creem of Newton, and Cindy F. Friedman of Arlington, and Republican Senators Bruce E. Tarr of Gloucester and Richard J. Ross of Wrentham — Rodrigues added that he will update the public from time to time. But, he warned, he will not issue any comments once the investigator is retained.
Before the meeting Tuesday, Senator Sal N. DiDomenico of Everett resigned from committee and was replaced by Friedman. DiDomenico had been working to position himself among his colleagues as a candidate for Senate president should the office become vacant, some of his fellow senators have said.
“For the best interests of the Senate and myself I thought it important for me to resign so that there was no appearance of a conflict,” DiDomenico told the State House News Service.
No time frame has been set for how long the taxpayer-funded investigation will take.
A full Senate vote Monday empowered the committee to look at Rosenberg’s conduct and granted it subpoena power.
The committee could find he had done nothing wrong. Or, if the majority of the committee members find there has been a violation of the rules or other misconduct, they could recommend disciplinary action. That could include reprimand, censure, temporary or permanent removal from a position of authority, suspension with or without pay, or expulsion.
Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said Tuesday it’s important for the Senate “to create distance and separation between this investigation and the Senate. Many of the people whose concerns have been raised as part of the stories that have been written so far are connected, in one way or another, to the Senate and to the Legislature.”
Speaking to reporters after an unrelated event, he said, “It’s critical and it must be clear and precise that these people can come forward and speak without fear of retribution. And, frankly, it’s on everybody associated with the Senate to make sure that they can feel comfortable doing that.”
After giving up his leadership position, Rosenberg remains a rank-and-file senator. As of Tuesday, he was no longer receiving his $80,000-a-year Senate presidential stipend, according to the office of the state treasurer. But he still gets his annual base pay of about $62,500 and a $20,000 office stipend, a Treasury spokeswoman said.
The Globe first reported Thursday that three men said Hefner groped their genitals (two said he did so more than once) and one said Hefner kissed him against his will. Though three of the alleged incidents took place when Rosenberg was just feet away, the Globe found no evidence that he knew about the assaults.
Hefner’s alleged victims and others have said Hefner boasted of his pull in state politics and of his influence with Rosenberg. One alleged victim — a policy advocate who said Hefner assaulted him in the fall of 2015 — said he understood that Hefner was offering to help smooth his path in the Senate in return for sex. Several people said Hefner spoke of Rosenberg’s work in the Senate as what “we” — Rosenberg and Hefner — were trying to accomplish.
Rosenberg said last week, “If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true.”
Meanwhile, another inquiry could soon be underway.
On Monday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley urged alleged victims of Rosenberg’s husband to come forward so they can launch a separate, criminal investigation into Hefner’s conduct.